Colombia: humanitarian crisis
- The National Union of Public and General Employees
(NUPGE) - Canada
National Union focus:
Colombia is facing a humanitarian crisis
Every three days on average a trade union leader is
killed in Colombia
Colombia is a small country in South America, known
for its great beauty, the generosity of its people and
the wealth of its natural resources.
Colombia is also in the midst of a humanitarian crisis
on the scale of Kosovo, Rwanda and Guatemala. To date
this crisis has gone largely unnoticed by the global
community. The National Union is committed to helping
popular movements in Colombia achieve real social
Violence and Colombia are synonymous in the minds of
many. Yet little of the violence within the country is
related to its "military" objectives. Rather, the
violence is perpetrated against unarmed campesinas,
workers, and the leaders of trade unions and popular
More than 80% of the casualties of the "war" in
Colombia are civilians. It has been estimated that the
guerrilla movements are responsible for about 5% of the
deaths, the army for about 10% and paramilitary forces
for about 85%. A quick look at the statistics speaks
- A union leader is assassinated every 3 days on
average in Colombia, accounting for the vast majority
of all trade unionists killed worldwide.
- More than 2.5 million campesinas have been forced
from their land by economic conditions, fumigation
and, most importantly, intimidation by the right-wing
- 1.5 million displaced people are living in Bogota alone,
many in appalling conditions in shanty towns. Almost
half the displaced in Bogota are Afro-Colombian or
- Between 1986 and 1995, 45,000 people died as a direct
result of the war, including 36,000 civilians. One
person is murdered every 15 to 20 minutes, on average.
- Paramilitary groups (as the government has officially
acknowledged) have grown by more than 80% within the
past year, expanding their influence across 40% of the entire
Public sector unions face special challenges
Approximately 42% of Colombia's budget goes to service
foreign debt and another 30% to finance its police and
military. Under pressure from the International
Monetary Fund and World Bank, the government is being
forced to change the constitution and roll back its
support for health and education.
Public sector unions are struggling with privatization
and wage freezes. Laws make it difficult to organize
workers by sector, so the union movement remains quite
Feneltrase, the federation representing state workers,
has 70 affiliated unions. CUT, Colombia's central
labour body, has almost 750 affiliates.
United States has taken an active interventionist role
in Colombia. As part of its 'War on Drugs', and also
through Plan Colombia, and now the Andean Initiative,
the U.S. has poured billions of dollars into the hands
of the Colombian armed forces.
However, much of this has gone to finance paramilitary
groups closely associated with the army, as well as
large landowners and transnational corporations.
Seeking a just and lasting peace
All the organizations within the popular movement are
acutely aware of recent peace negotiations in Guatemala
and El Salvador and their failure to address the
underlying causes of inequality and injustice in
A common theme is that peace negotiations in Colombia
must include representatives of indigenous, campesinas,
Afro-Colombian, women's and other social movements.
Think things can't get any worse - think again!
Following the terrorist attacks of September 11th, the
Bush government announced that, under the guise of
fighting terrorism, it was increasing its efforts to
provide military training and equipment to Colombia.
This is in addition to the current funding to the
Colombian government's "War on Drugs." The U.S.
government has given millions of dollars in military
aid to the Colombian military despite that government's
continued failure to meet human rights conditions that
were outlined by the U.S. Congress.
On August 7, 2002, Alvaro Uribe Velez assumed the
Colombian Presidency with a promise to intensify his
government's efforts to defeat the guerillas. Uribe was
strongly endorsed by Colombia's paramilitary groups and
his past record as Governor was noted for inaction on
extreme levels of right-wing paramilitary violence.
Currently there is a growing human rights crisis in the
Northern Cauca region. Northern Cauca, noted for its
remarkable experiments in resistance to neoliberalism
and in the actual construction of alternatives in the
hemisphere, not to mention a courageous and unarmed
struggle for peace, is being bombarded by both the
FARC, a guerilla army, and the Colombian government.
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